Wednesday, November 18, 2009

sims 3 world adventures

The first expansion pack for the Sims 3 came out this week and I have to admit, I am really enjoying Sims 3: World Adventures so far! I was skeptical at first - we've seen vacationing before in Sims 2: Bon Voyage and while it was well done there, I was worried that World Adventures would seem like merely a reinvention of the new stuff introduced in BV. Not to worry! World Adventures is in fact a really cool addition to the many already cool and new features of the Sims 3. For one thing, there are three new locations to visit, replicating China, France and Egypt - your Sims can visit these locations as vacations for a small fee and spend time without advancing time in the normal game. There are new skills to acquire - martial arts and photography - and several new personality traits that can influence your Sim's behavior and lifestyle. I have only played through some of the new stuff but overall I am pretty impressed. Also, this could totally be a coincidence, but I have to say that my game has been running waaaay better than it ever did before World Adventures and the accompanying game patch, so that's something for sure. All in all, there is a lot of cool new game content and gameplay details to be had in World Adventures, plus registering it on Sims3.com gets you a free 1,000 points to put towards downloading new hairstyles, outfits and furniture. If you're a big fan of the Sims, I don't think you'll be disappointed with World Adventures. I look forward to exploring it further and figuring out all the cool new things I can do with this first expansion pack.

dragon age: origins

The boyfriend just finished his first playthrough of Dragon Age: Origins, the latest party-based RPG from developer Bioware, and it was a pretty epic game. This fantasy RPG is a pretty awesome, full game that certainly is reminiscent of Bioware's Star Wars RPG Knights of the Old Republic, and this first playthrough at least took over 70 hours. Considering there are six different character class origins to start with, each with a unique storyline, I think this speaks highly for the replay value of this game. If you liked KOTOR or Mass Effect in recent years, Dragon Age: Origins may be up your alley. The combat is pretty typical if you've played Bioware games before. The characters are very cool and despite the game's similarities to Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, they are more deeply developed and offer more of an emotional distinction from character to character. One big issue I have to take with this game is its graphics and presentation. While it runs smoothly, it looks like crap and seems like not much of an engine upgrade from KOTOR - I would believe it if I read that it was the same game engine at work here. Considering the leaps and bounds taken by other current-generation games with regards to animation, this game seriously disappoints in that realm. Luckily it is pretty much the only area in which this game suffers, so as long as you are not too much of a graphics snob (and are planning on playing it on an Xbox 360 - can't speak for how much worse it might look on a PS3) you will most likely still get some serious enjoyment out of this game. Looking forward to experiencing different characters and plot elements in the second (and other future) playthroughs!

halo: reach will debut at spike awards

Some guy from GameTrailers.com has announced via Twitter (Of course! Is there any other way to announce anything these days?) that the Spike TV Video Game Awards will be held live this year on December 12th. One of the more major news stories going along with this revelation is the announcement that Halo: Reach will have its official world premiere during the Video Game Awards. Reach is of course a first-person shooter slated to be the last game in the Halo franchise developed by original game developers Bungie; future Halo games (you know it's not ending any time soon, hello Spielberg movie?) will be handled by Microsoft game subsidiary 343 Industries. With all the awesome titles that launched in 2009 it should be a cool year for video game awards, with Batman: Arkham Asylum, Left 4 Dead 2, CoD: Modern Warfare 2, Uncharted 2 and Assassin's Creed 2 all receiving nominations for Game of the Year. Sounds like this year's VGAs are worth catching, if only to see which of the many deserving game titles ends up running away with GotY this year.

mario is timeless

Video game characters come and go; some are universally loved, others hated, and other still manage to be remembered for cheesy lines, awesome weaponry and crazy special moves. Yet no video game character is (or really, will ever be) as pervasive as everyone's favorite Italian plumber Mario! Whether you grew up with Mario in the 80's, originally meeting him as "Jumpman" in the Donkey Kong arcade game, or you met him as a youngster in Super Smash Bros. or any of the other more recent Mario franchises, one thing is for sure: the world cannot get enough of Mario. He is tenacious, cute, exciting and brave. He always manages to save Princess Peach, no matter what kind of crazy situation with Bowser she's got herself into now. This summer he and Luigi even ventured into Bowser a la Innerspace in Bowser's Inside Story, and now a whole new generation of gamers will get to experience classic side-scrolling fun in New Super Mario Bros., which dropped this past weekend. So whether Mario is a favorite of yours or you have minimal experience with the short, scrappy plumber, rest assured knowing that Mario is here to stay.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

assassin's creed lineage

With the holiday season rapidly approaching (and me thankfully no longer working retail) it is hard not to get caught up in the giant marketing campaigns of all the great games coming out over the next few weeks. Still after being hit over the head with banner ads, facebook fan pages, and slick television spots, when a game's marketing team serves you up an innovative way to learn more about their product, it's kind of refreshing! That's how I feel about Ubisoft's release of Assassin's Creed Lineage, a prequel short film offering insight into the story of the upcoming Assassin's Creed 2. The movie provides plot elements to introduce the game's new hero and adds in parts of the story that were left out of the original Assassin's Creed, which launched in 2007. Where TV commercials and banner ads might get the point across in an invasive or annoying way, Assassin's Creed Lineage lets the interested user explore further into the game's universe and learn more on his or her own time. The short films can be viewed on YouTube or caught on gamer-friendly TV channels like SpikeTV.

atari finds a new way

Most people associate Atari with clunky black cartridges and antiquated systems with 20 buttons on the controller, not giving much consideration to the fact that Atari is in fact still developing games for current consoles. Granted, they may not be releasing groundbreaking games today when compared with other modern competition, but one thing you can say for Atari is that they understand the importance of reinvention. Where others focus on how to develop games in new ways, Atari is setting its sights on new strategies in game marketing. The process of developing and selling a video game is a long and expensive one - Atari's idea is that streamlining presentation can better highlight important aspects of games during the selling of games to interested buyers/publishers. With considerations to conference calling rather than in-person presentations and using HD video tools to better show off the impressive elements of a game's design process, Atari is definitely thinking smarter when it comes to game marketing and development.

hey kids, history IS interesting!

Lately it seems like video games that deal in historical plotlines or recreate monumental events from history are growing in popularity. This is of course not a new development; game designers have been delving into the past for game ideas and story lines for years. Having majored in history in college, I find myself drawn to genres of games I wouldn't even normally play if they appeal in a plot-based way to an interesting part of history. Still, with the video game industry growing into the billion-dollar machine that it has, representing an entertainment option to a much more mainstream demographic than ever before, people have started to notice when a video game manages to be rooted in historical substance and yet still catch the attention of today's jaded and disconnected youth. The American Library Association has established November 14th as National Gaming Day in U.S. libraries and recognizes the benefit of adding video games and interactive activities into the suite of learning tools that libraries offer to help kids learn. More and more game developers are picking up on this interest as well and tailoring their games to be not only historically interesting but also accurate:
Gary Keith Brubaker, a lecturer in game study at The Guildhall at SMU in Texas, said historical games always have to try to balance accuracy and fun. "Just as movies about the past adapt the story to medium, so do games. However as limited as this history is, it can be a gateway for further exploration and interest for players," said Brubaker.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

modern warfare 2 set to break sales records

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 came out today and according to initial reviews, it sounds like it probably deserves the high sales predictions that accompanied its midnight release. IGN's review goes into depth about the game and awards it a 9.5 "Incredible". I am not really a huge fan of first-person shooters but I'm sure if I was I would be attached to my console of choice at the moment blasting terrorists in the face. Anyway, early forecasts are predicting that Modern Warfare 2 will be the fastest selling video game in history, starting with over 4.5 million preorders ready for pickup. MW2 is also another example of a big-release title coming out in multiple editions: the game by itself is $60, and there are two levels of special edition; the more expensive "Prestige" edition came with functioning nightvision goggles. You also can't forget the (admittedly a great deal if you don't have a 360 yet) limited edition Modern Warfare 2 Xbox 360 console that comes with the game, two wireless controllers and a whopper of a 250 GB hard drive. So whether or not you play the Call of Duty franchise, expect to hear more and more discussion of this brand new and crazy popular shooter.

Friday, October 30, 2009

afrika on ps3

One of the major issues I take with game reviewers online is that sometimes it seems like they judge all games against the standards of the most fun, most mainstream, most popular game to have come out recently rather than fairly judging a game against its own standards. If a game sets out to entertain you for hours with bloody and crazy first-person shooter fun, then judge it to that standard. If it instead sets out to teach you something, or help you lose weight, or make you relax or think, these are the standards it should be judged against! In particular I am seeing this happen with a new Playstation 3 game called Afrika. Afrika seems pretty much like a realistic safari version of Pokemon Snap - you cruise around the African plains as a professional photographer shooting prize-winning photos of African species on the Serengeti. This game is suffering from the fate of a wide disparity between critics' scores and user scores, and I think the problem is the one I outlined above. Of course if you are a huge fan of Halo 3: ODST and you compare Afrika to that you will probably think it is boring! I haven't tried Afrika yet so I guess it could totally suck but I just can't believe that it deserves IGN's score of a 3.5 "Bad". Lucky for me I still get my GameStop privilege of "signing out" a game for a few days like a free rental - I think this game is the perfect candidate as, well, it's just not a good time to be spending $50 on a glorified Pokemon Snap!
Anyone out there tried Afrika yet? What did you think?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

modern warfare 2 controversal leaked footage

Gameplay footage of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (launching on November 10th) has hit the internets and has incited more controversy over the presence of realistic violence in popular video games. You can check out some of the footage here courtesy of Game Trailers. Modern Warfare 2, the follow-up to Infinity Ward's insanely popular first-person shooter fourth installment of the Call of Duty series, apparently opens with a disturbing scene of heavily armed terrorists killing unarmed civilians in a setting that looks suspiciously like Los Angeles' LAX airport. Thanks for that comforting idea right before the start of the holiday travel season! The game's developer defends the scene saying that it establishes the true evil of the Russian terrorist group that the player ultimately must defeat to win the game. A game like this is bound to get some people riled up but this does seem a little... overkill? I mean, every day we wake up to new reports of deadly attacks and terrorist scares - aren't video games where we go to escape that scary reality? I guess some gamers get their kicks taking on the role of our country's military defenders; me personally, I find comfort in fantasy universes, colorful and vivid world depictions, and rolling a giant katamari ball around picking crap up. Then again, that is the beauty of video games - there truly is something out there for every gamer's interests!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

cool iphone puzzle app to check out

When I first got my iPhone I was like, "nah, I'm not gonna play games on it. Cellphone games are stupid." Fast-forward to now, and I have several totally awesome game apps installed on my lovely 3GS. The first I got was I Love Katamari, which got much play despite being insanely hard due to the tilt controls. More recently I got totally addicted to EA's Clue, which, though its gameplay is a departure from the classic board game, is a really fun and well-made app game that has in my opinion pretty infinite replay value. Lately I wanted to fill a couple of empty spots in my app selection and so I expanded my game-app library, adding Dots, Checkers, Beirut/Beer Pong (not as fun as it might sound; watching an animation of drinking a beer is just not the same as the real thing) and a really tight, beautifully animated Wooden Labyrinth 3D puzzle game. This labyrinth game is one of the best uses of the iPhone's tilt mechanism I've seen so far - the puzzle is simple enough that any little tilt alters the view and (obvs) affects the way your ball will roll. The free/lite version shows you an ad every few levels that you can skip right through so it's totally worth it. It's not super new but it's currently in the Top 25 freebie apps so it's easy to find. Check it out, fellow iPhone addicts!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

xbox live or playstation network?

With last month's console price drops for both the Playstation 3 and the Xbox 360, the debate of which system to go with rages on. The PS3's new claims of "It only does everything" are, well, kinda true. At the same time, the Xbox offers a highly populated online gaming community that the PS3 hasn't really developed as well (yet anyway). For a price of course. This article goes into both sides of the next-gen console debate in a lot of depth, including the differences in the online services as well as the hardware advantages to both systems. So if you're considering taking the plunge to buying a new $299 gaming system, check out this article for the lowdown on both options.

has uncharted 2 made all other games obsolete?

Personally, I don't think so. But apparently some people do, as the follow-up to one of the best PS3 games, Uncharted, has set new precedents for awesomeness in gaming after its release last week. Uncharted 2 brings the badass-ness in its action-adventure elements, its environmental puzzles, its totally awesome graphics/animation, its well-acted and professionally-voiced characters, and, well, a lot of other supercool aspects of the game. Plus it has an addictively challenging and fun multiplayer mode, adding more substance to the Playstation Network's online community. So I can understand why some people feel that Uncharted 2's developer Naughty Dog has brought the gaming industry to a standstill when it comes to innovative and new gaming territory.

new super mario bros wii preview

Many Wii gamers are eagerly anticipating the release of New Super Mario Bros. Wii, coming out November 15th. Fans of the classic Mario series will be glad to know the upcoming Mario Bros. game will actually challenge your gaming skills. One of my favorite sources for upcoming game news and very detailed reviews, Game Trailers, has an awesome preview video of New Super Mario Bros. Wii showing the co-op gameplay and other exciting aspects of the highly anticipated game. Check out the video and get excited about playing Mario Bros. with a bunch of friends, all on the same TV screen (what a concept in these days of online multiplayer only, right?)!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

uncharted 2 is awesome

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves came out for the Playstation 3 this week and it is really living up to the glowing reviews it's been receiving for weeks now. The graphics are truly beautiful and the game moves along quickly with slick controls and an engrossing plot. The sequel to one of the Playstation 3's best exclusive titles, Uncharted 2 brings the action suspense in a way that few games achieve. The pacing gets your heart going and sometimes the timing is so close that you can't believe you made it through whatever adrenaline-inducing scenario the game has thrown at you. The character acting is great and the voicing is well done. All in all, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is a great new title out for anyone with a PS3. Definitely worth trading in some boring old games to pick this one up!

Friday, October 9, 2009

demon's souls on ps3

We are very excited for Uncharted 2 which debuts next week, but until then our latest PS3 acquisition has been getting a lot of play: Sony exclusive title Demon's Souls. An RPG with as much customization as you could ask for, Demon's Souls is a dark fantasy-themed game involving a land corrupted by demons and beasts that you of course need to save. The graphics are very nice to look at and the online integration is cool and innovative. You can leave notes along the way that others connected to the Playstation Network can view and rate as helpful or not. If the note is found to be unhelpful it disappears, but if your note gets voted as helpful then you even get a health bonus in your own game! Cool stuff. There is a lot to look forward to on the newly-cheaper PS3 and Demon's Souls is definitely one to try if you like RPGs with a lot of good fighting in them. Most reviews I've read have been very positive, like this one from PSXextreme that goes into quite a lot of detail. IGN even gave it a 9.4 "Outstanding"!

this potential wii game sounds cool

So I randomly came across mention of this game called Sadness for the Wii recently and although it doesn't have a release date for the US that I could find, it does sound pretty cool and I would love to try it if I could. It looks to be a survival-horror style adventure game with a story centered on a Victorian-era woman and her blind son in turn-of-the-century Russia. Claiming to make you face your greatest fears, the game deals with themes of paranoia, schizophrenia and nyctophobia, a.k.a. fear of the dark. The game uses the Wii's nunchuk and wiimote controllers as the character's hands, giving the player a sense of immersion into the plot. The latest news on this game is from over a year ago so who knows if this title is languishing on some developer's desk somewhere. IGN has some pretty cool images that look like concept designs more than anything else, but they do look scary and cool. The game is in all black and white and would be a nice addition to the small but growing library of Wii games aimed at older gamers.

Friday, October 2, 2009

anti-violent gaming advocate sues facebook

You may have heard of Jack Thompson, an activist who has taken a stand against violence and sexual themes in video games, speaking out publicly about the dangers of games like the Grand Theft: Auto series and other violence-heavy game titles. He notably responded after a case where a kid killed several people and cited the GTA games as inspiration, which Thompson called a "murder stimulator". Well, people on Facebook apparently don't like Thompson too much and called for all kinds of mean actions directed at him, and he has now taken legal action against the 300-million-users-plus social networking site. It's an interesting case that involves a lot of digital media and the questionable legality of censoring a site's user comments. This should be an interesting case to follow as Thompson proceeds with his efforts to get Facebook to halt what he finds to be threatening and harmful messaging directed at him and his efforts.

cursed mountain

I got a chance to play through a bit of Cursed Mountain, a 2009 survival-horror Wii title by developer Deep Silver and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised! The reviews that were out for this game were mostly of the "meh" variety, citing a cool story but shoddy motion controls and outdated gameplay. I love games with a good story and this one definitely has a cool one, supported by findable notes full of useful information about your goal and the setting around your character. The animation is also very cool to see on the Wii and shows that the Wii is a lot more flexible with realistic (but not ultra-realistic) graphics than some developers seem to think. I only played for a few hours but found the controls pretty intuitive, fairly tight and not annoying. The fighting system is kinda cool and involves a variety of strategies to beat the ghost enemies that haunt the mountain village where your journey begins, and of course the cursed mountain itself. If you're a fan of scary-supernatural plots in games then this may be one to try out.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

this is kind of an outrage

Nintendo is probably my favorite of the Big Three game publishers but I'm a little pissed off this weekend after discovering two pretty annoying slights that they've pulled with regards to Wii Sports Resort and the MotionPlus Controller. First, don't get your additional MotionPlus at GameStop (as we did of course); turns out Nintendo is pricing the controller add-on at $25 at GameStop whereas every other freaking retailer is selling it at its MSRP of $19.99. Hella lame. Second (and more grievous in my opinion) offense: when we bought our copy of Wii Sports Resort, it came bundled with one MotionPlus and we bought one extra for the above ripoff of $24.99. Now, not even a month later, there is a "limited" Wii Sports Resort bundle for $60 with TWO MotionPlus controllers. As it should have been originally considering that WSR's true value definitely comes in multiplayer mode. So being the loyal Nintendo brand fans and Wii players that we are, we dropped an extra $20 overall on our purchase of WSR and the MotionPlus add-ons that supposedly will be an important feature of tons of new great Wii games. So anyway, like with many other annoying life-isn't-fair moments, lazy gamers who don't want to support new innovative products are getting rewarded for holding their money until the companies have a chance to respond to the dumbass decisions they made in the first place. Hella. Laaaaaame. Boo on you, Nintendo, I hope this isn't a trend you're adopting.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

katamari forever review

I love love LOVE the Katamari series so it's no surprise that I am having a blast playing the latest release in the franchise, Katamari Forever on the Playstation 3. The game hit stores this Tuesday and I personally think it is a great followup to the Xbox 360 game Beautiful Katamari. If you've played the series before then picking up Katamari Forever is totally simple and intuitive, and if you've never tried rolling the katamari before, it's easy to get into it quickly. The gameplay mechanics are more of the same rolling and bouncing but now with an added "Prince hop" using the six-axis PS3 controls. There are also two new bonus items that can be found in most levels that give you fleeting magnetic power, sucking all available objects nearby right to your katamari. The music is the familiar J-Pop-y sound from the other games and while I do love it for the most part, I did worry about going insane a few times after my tenth or eleventh try through some of the longer, more challenging levels. The animation is one of the real high points of this new game: first, it is rendered in full 1080p so if you've got the HD setup already then it is gorgeous to behold. The game also has a cell-shaded "hand-drawn" look to it that makes it distinct from Beautiful Katamari, and there are also different filters you can apply to change the way each level is animated, which I think is a great customization option. There are some levels that will be familiar to you if you've played Beautiful Katamari but the challenges are new and there are also many new and innovative levels and challenges. The plot of the game is just as weird as ever and now includes two series of short movies that occur after beating certain levels. The wacky dialogue paired with Namco-Bandai translation makes for one hell of a weird gaming experience but I am totally smitten. If you've got a PS3, pick this game up for sure - it's even $10 less than most PS3 titles!

250 GB xbox 360 and PS3 bundles on the horizon

Once the dust has cleared after the recent price drops on the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3 there will be more new bundles arriving on the market than ever, including a reported 250 GB hard drive Xbox 360 that will be released with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 for $400, the previous price of the 120 GB Elite. While many gamers buy into the idea that bigger is always going to be better and more space is better than less, some feel that the systems are cheapening what they offer as far as performance and hardware by simply adding more storage space and charging more. This is an interesting argument and it's totally possible that such measures are desperate attempts to keep up with the ever-changing desires of today's gamers. Our systems are a 20 GB 360 and an 80 GB PS3 and while the PS3 does require installing a lot of data, we still have plenty of space although we don't really download much or store music on either system. What will be truly ridiculous will be when the next next generation of game systems is defined in terms of terabyte hard drives. Most likely the PSN and Xbox Live will have seriously kicked into gear with offering more stuff to download by then.

cops caught playing wii during drug raid

Not much to say about this one except: hilarious! A bunch of cops were caught playing Wii Bowling while raiding a drug dealers house in Florida. Those officers should probably just spring for a break room Wii especially once the rumored price drop happens. You have to figure that a drug dealer probably has a lot of disposable income and most likely an awesome video game collection and home entertainment system. People everywhere need to realize that between camera phones and the internet it is not safe to do anything you shouldn't be doing while on the clock.

Friday, September 18, 2009

finally finished professor layton 2

I have to admit, I've been playing Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box almost exclusively since I got it and with 22 hours logged into the DS game, I finally reached the end! I did my best to play the game through completely and while I have not yet ventured back out into the game to find the last few things I didn't do, I feel pretty good about my efforts. I found and solved 136 of 138 puzzles, completed the camera and hamster mini games and the subsequent camera-photo hidden puzzle minigame, and unlocked three of the five Layton's Challenges options in the Bonus section. I thoroughly enjoyed the Diabolical Box and found it to be a fun and innovative followup to Professor Layton and the Curious Village. If I had to find one fault with the game I would agree with reviews I read that criticize the seemingly random use of voice acting - it isn't just in cutscenes but it isn't in every scene and sometimes it's like one character gets a voice actor and the one he's talking to doesn't... plus the voice acting was just a wee bit questionable what with every voice being obviously a Japanese actor behind it despite what the accent was supposed to be. Nevertheless, this game was totally awesome and I would highly recommend it to anyone who loves challenging puzzle games and cute animation and music, whether you've played the first game or not. Two thumbs up for sure.

wii price drop?

The rumor mill is grinding away as busily as usual and it's only going to get crazier with the impending 2009 holiday season looming ahead of us. One of the latest (and greatest!) claims on the internet these days is that the Nintendo Wii is going to follow the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 in receiving a price drop before Christmas. Scanned images of circulars for several major retailers have leaked online (see Target's for the week of 9/27 at right), indicating that Nintendo's game console will most likely be dropping $50 off its pricetag and hitting shelves at $199 starting in October! I for one hope this is true and think it is a great move on Nintendo's part... the Wii's sales have slowed to a crawl and with the 360 Elite and the PS3 Slim priced only $50 more than the Wii, something for sure has gotta give. Personally I think Nintendo would be very smart to rebundle the Wii with a MotionPlus controller add-on and a copy of Wii Sports Resort for $250 - I mean, who really wants Wii Sports these days? Anyway, if you've never had a Wii before, consider investing in one at the reduced price as there are a lot of great games coming out, some of which should use the fantastic MotionPlus technology.

me so sorry!

Wow, it's been way, waaay too long since I've posted anything on this poor blog. I am such a neglectful blog-mom! But really, it hasn't been pure laziness like it usually is - I've been going through some pretty big changes to my everyday life in the last few weeks on top of doing a bit of traveling and the blog, well, it's just been sitting collecting cyber-dust. What's happened so far is this: I was laid off from one of my jobs (the career-oriented one, sadly - damn this economy!) but was immediately offered a new full-time job as the assistant manager of a store comparable to the Android's Dungeon on the Simpsons. I've also been calling it "Kind of A Lot O' Comics". We sell comic books, collectible action figures and statuettes, trading cards and vintage video games and game systems. It's actually pretty awesome and of course I consider myself lucky to have lost one job and gotten another one so quickly in today's job market. On top of that, my boyfriend and I traveled to his best friend's wedding for a weekend (and got much handheld gamage done on the road). Finally, because stress and money worries aren't enough, I've been fatigued and feeling like death for a few weeks now and finally decided to go to the doctor, who kindly informed me that at age 24 I have MONO! Boooo. So now I'm doing my best to get over that damn thing and not being able to go into work for a few days while I loll about on vicodin and prescription cough syrup.

Anyway, none of these are really good excuses for neglecting my lil' blog here but hey, things happen, video games go unplayed and video game stories go unreported. I'm going to try to power through some posts this weekend and get caught up - zero posts in September is a serious for shame. Sooo, anyone with cool ideas on stuff they would like to see me write about, feel free to drop me a comment. Also, to my (few but awesome) loyal readers, thanks for checking back and sticking with me, I promise that the future will bring far more regular postings, especially as we head into the holiday season, which always provides endless coverage on new games, system changes and big news in the video game industry. Thanks again for reading, emdroid hearts you!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

dissidia final fantasy

I have played a Final Fantasy game here and there and was never drawn into it but there is no denying that it is one of the most popular and lasting video game franchises out there and arguably has one of the most loyal fan bases when it comes to buying new franchise titles upon release. So of course it is no wonder that Square Enix's latest release Dissidia Final Fantasy, a fighting game featuring only Final Fantasy characters from across the franchise's history, is proving to be a popular seller to FF fans. Whether it will sell to anyone not already engrossed in the franchise is another story, but hey, there's also a limited edition silver PSP bundle! Dissidia Final Fantasy is getting solidly good reviews and is just one of many big fighter-game releases over the next year.

cursed mountain is out

I haven't had all that much time lately to spend playing video games (horrors, I know!) but one that I really am anxious to try out for sure is Cursed Mountain, which came out on the Nintendo Wii this week. Cursed Mountain is a survival horror game that follows a mountaineer searching for his brother who disappeared on his way to a monastery in the mountains. The animation looks gorgeous for a Wii game and the M-for-mature rating makes me want to support it just to get more games like it into development. There are only a few reviews up so far and the game seems to be scoring around a 7 out of 10 for the most part. From what I have read it sounds like the game suffers from the typical Wii issues of wacky motion controls that sometimes feel tacked on, but otherwise the game seems like a really interesting adventure title. I love games with well-developed stories and plot progressions and it seems like Cursed Mountain is a winner there. Anyone out there tried this one yet?

console price drops abound

Hot on the heels of Sony's announcement of the new PS3 Slim model priced at $299 with a 120 GB hard drive, Microsoft has made its official announcement regarding its own video game console price drops this month. The $299 Pro system, equipped with a 60 GB hard drive, will be dropped to $249 and subsequently phased out while the $399 120 GB Elite system will be reduced to $299. The no-frills Arcade system will remain at $199. Also, there are no plans for a competing Xbox 360 Slim model in response to Sony's slimmer console, according to Aaron Greenberg, the Director of Product Marketing for Xbox 360 and XBLA. So, if you've ever considered taking the plunge into console ownership, now might be the time since for $299 you can have your pick of the 360 or PS3, both with a monster 120 GB drive.

Microsoft confirms price cut, denies "Xbox 360 Slim" rumors

the 3 types of game store customers

I've got to preface the article I'm going to post here by saying that I really do enjoy my job selling video games at the retail level to customers - it isn't my life's aspiration but I'm pretty sure I've got time to work on that. Interacting with appreciative customers and helping people find the stuff they're looking for and make smart buying decisions is actually quite rewarding. Still, I have to say I completely and totally agree with the three types of customers outlined in this article. I would add a fourth column of "doesn't mess up your day" because really, there are plenty of them. Maybe I just get lucky in that I'm a pleasant, polite female and people don't usually mess with me too badly. But I have for sure seen my share of the following three types of shoppers and dealing with them truly is one of the greater challenges of video game retail work. The article I'm linking may be old but it is in no way outdated - I'm lucky to deal with mostly confused and bizarre and less angry but they show up in every store and sometimes it does make you wonder how these people get through life on a daily basis. Anyway, here are Something Awful's three types of GameStop shoppers:

The Confused
"By order of the We Hate Retail Employees Organization, these people are never allowed to directly answer questions like "Any idea what you're looking for?" or "Would you please stop drooling all over the carpet?" Instead they must stagger around the store with the precision and grace of a pregnant hippopotamus while leaving a trail of knocked-over display boxes, misplaced games and crying employees in their wake."
The Angry
"Under no circumstances should you attempt to combat his insane ramblings with logic, because doing so carries a significant risk of making the Angry Customer level up and evolve into his upgraded form, the dreaded Really Really Fucking Angry Customer."
The Bizarre
"These can range from people who stare at your nametag and then proceed to call you by the wrong name, to people who make some very specific and strange requests when looking for games. 'Hello, do you carry any games where you grow larger with food upgrades from three-legged Eskimo fairies while speeding backwards through Atlantis on a giant piece of cheese?'"
Something Awful: Working at GameStop

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

bridging the online-offline gap

Seattle-based startup company Smith & Tinker has announced its plan to launch a line of interactive toys and computer games that will seek to bridge the gap between online and offline play, at least when it comes to 7-to-12-year-old boys. Apparently toy companies are freaked by the prospect that more and more kids are putting down actual toys in favor of video games at earlier and earlier ages, so of course bridging the gap between toys and online games has become a target goal in new product development. The Nanovor game system (which reads a lot like a Pokemon ripoff) features digital monster pets and accessories that game users can buy with Nanocash (surprise, you pay for it with real cash!). The game can be played online on a PC or with other players via handheld game machines that actually connect together so your Nanovor can fight with the Nanovor of others. Sounds a little like Cube World. I guess only time will tell if this kind of integrated toy offering will tempt kids who are currently completely addicted to solo-player and online video games.

Start-Up Plays Offline

professor layton & the diabolical box

This is a great week for game releases, mostly because today is the ship date for one of the year's most anticipated DS titles, Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box! The long-awaited followup to the runaway/sleeper hit of 2008 Professor Layton and the Curious Village is actually the second title in a trilogy chronicling the adventures of Layton and his young apprentice Luke. The series sells like crazy in Europe and the third one is already topping Japanese sales charts. The original title was one of the first games I played after getting my DS and it remains one of my favorites, and one of a select group of games that I actually repurchased after trading in initially. The game is full of challenging brain-teasers (some easy, and some insanely hard) and is set against a beautiful Euro-themed village setting. I have been replaying the first game to remind myself of its plot and have found it immensely enjoyable to see the lovely animation style and listen to the adorable atmospheric soundtrack again. I have already paid off my copy of Diabolical Box and plan to pick it up tomorrow after what will most likely be a very long day of working both jobs from 9 am to 10 pm. But at least with this release I have something to look forward to taking home once my shift's over!

natal is cool but still questionable

At last month's game developer's conference Game Convention 2009 in Germany, the Microsoft team working on Project Natal for the Xbox 360 revealed a bit more on the topic of the innovative motion-camera-controlled game system first unveiled at this year's E3. Now IGN has brought the new information to its readers in a Project Natal Preview that highlights the promise of new and interesting gaming as well as the uncertainty of how much Natal will catch on. I have to agree with the cynics that are wondering when the real appeal of Natal as a gamer's gaming console will appear - "Ricochet" seems like a cool and fun Wii Sports-esque game that definitely exhibits the Natal's range, but I definitely doubt the application of this system into real games that people want to put a lot of time and effort into. The description of using imaginary wheels and pedals and pumping fists to control Burnout gameplay sounds just awful and I really don't know many gamers who want to continually make such crazy motions as opposed to sacking out on the couch with the convenience of a wireless analog-stick controller. Plus when it comes to driving games, you need only compare Mario Kart 64 (one of gaming's great masterpieces, in my opinion) with the Wii version to see the importance of a steering stick and tensile control.

I would love to hear from anyone who has first-handedly tried out Project Natal at this year's conferences about whether the control system is as mind-blowingly cool as most people seem to think, and whether the applications into "normal" games will expose Natal's weaknesses or strengthen its argument for new control schemes in gaming. Especially if you have photo evidence of yourself flailing around while playing Ricochet!

batman: arkham asylum

Batman: Arkham Asylum hit store shelves today and thus far is getting some pretty awesome reviews. Game Informer gave it a 9.5 and called it their Game of the Month, and now IGN has rewarded it with a pretty amazing 9.3 "Outstanding". It sounds like despite the franchise having enormous shoes to fill with a video game, London-based developer Rocksteady Studios managed to do justice to the Caped Crusader and the many psycho villains inhabiting Arkham Asylum. Also, some of the voice acting is done by original actors from Batman: The Animated Series, including Mark Hamill as the Joker! The game apparently pushes the limits of its T-for-teen rating with scantily-clad bad girls and some colorful language, but good for them for keeping it under the dreaded M-rating that would mean teenagers couldn't go buy this game without parental permission. I definitely want to give this one a try sometime - it sounds like the styling of the setting and the characters is really atmospheric and spot-on for the mood they were trying to achieve. If you've got a PS3, you can even access the exclusive "play as the Joker" level, and preorders from GameStop include a Scarecrow challenge map level featuring some crazy skeleton enemies.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

microsoft's mmorpg "advertars"

I will admit that I have very little experience when it comes to online gaming and MMOs. I prefer my gaming to remain in my own controllable universe - the Sims, for example, would be far less enjoyable to me if I knew other people were controlling parts of my game experience. Still, I recognize the huge following of games like Lord of the Rings Online and World of Warcraft. Not surprisingly, these games are often used as platforms for advertising that takes advantage of the in-game trade or finance systems and reaches outside the game's realm to generate revenue from its popularity. This article highlights a new presence in MMOs: "advertars" or corporate-created playable characters or NPCs that walk around in-game environments and promote products. Examples given include MP3 player promotion and buzz generation for upcoming movies by characters straight out of the films. I consider this potential just another reason to avoid MMOs altogether. It really doesn't bother me to see McDonald's or Audi (or even GameStop itself) logos here and there in realistic game environments - it's a cool way for game developers to get more budget for their projects - but when characters in a game start targeting online players in game environments to "talk" about products, I think that crosses the line into intrusion in my game experience. Maybe in free-to-play games I could see this working out but if you're already dropping a monthly subscription fee, you should not have to deal with random NPCs spouting crap about Microsoft products!

Going too far? Microsoft creates advertars for online games
*on a side note, this blog Set on Stun has a ton of great discussion about video game marketing, if it's a topic you're interested in reading more about.

pokemon ds remakes headed to US

The long-anticipated remakes of second-generation Pokemon games Gold and Silver now have a release window and are expected to arrive in the North American market sometime during spring of 2010. The new titles remade for the Nintendo DS are Pokemon HeartGold and Pokemon SoulSilver; these new versions of the GameBoy Color games released nearly 10 years ago will feature updated graphics and sound as well as newly added touch controls. Gold and Silver introduced a ton of new monsters, pokemon breeding and a day-and-night system tied to real time. With these upcoming DS releases a whole new generation of Pokemon addicts will get to experience the original metallic Pokemon titles.

Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver headed to America this Spring

the road to rock band: beatles

The Beatles: Rock Band has been getting crazy press all over the place and I noticed in the newest Game Informer that they gave it an 8.75 - not too shabby! With limited edition replica instruments in a special edition bundle and fans worldwide getting psyched to rock out to Beatles songs, the launch of Harmonix's latest blockbuster is nearly here (It launches on September 9). While this game is sure to sell well and everyone behind it will be rolling around on piles of money by the end of the holiday season, apparently it wasn't the easiest process to get such a monumental game made and approved by everyone whose opinion counted. Not the least of which was Yoko Ono dictating her artistic vision on the poor game designers:
"She gave the designers hell," DeGooyer says. "She's an artist," Rigopulos adds, "so she was very concerned with the look of the game. She really held our feet to the fire." Ono made specific suggestions, like proposing that the game's final scene—the Beatles' infamous rooftop concert on the Apple Corps building in Knightsbridge—look windier.
How the Beatles Became a Video Game

mental health benefits of video games

Most gamers will tell you they've known this for years but a recent study has concluded that video games can help people with certain types of mental disorders like depression and stress. The research was done after it was brought to PopCap's attention that some of their hypnotic puzzle games like Bejeweled actually had the ability to get people to a "zen" state of mind during sleepless nights or bouts of depression. Apparently type A folks have trouble switching their brains off and the repetitive challenge of puzzle games actually serves to relax such brains. I am totally willing to believe this as nothing destresses me more than zoning out while rolling stuff up into a katamari... but I digress. This article also discusses the possible benefits of using video game simulations to teach soldiers in the military how to self-regulate their heartbeats and stay coherent under stressful circumstances. Cool stuff for sure!

Researchers Explore Mental Health Benefits of Video Games

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

xbox 360: epic fail!

The new issue of Game Informer includes a feature article profiling the sales and durability numbers of the hardware consoles from the three major game companies. The magazine conducted a survey asking gamers to report incidents of hardware failure, quality of customer service received, and instances of repeat purchases of the same console. The results were not so good for Microsoft, whose Xbox 360 console is now in the spotlight for highest rate of failure, fewest customers satisfied with service, and most repeat purchases compared to the Sony PS3 and the Nintendo Wii. The report also indicated that on average a 360 took about a month turnaround to be repaired whereas the Sony and Nintendo consoles trended more towards a week. I have been lucky (knock on wood) to not have suffered a Red Ring of Death but have often theorized that this hardware failure is responsible for Microsoft's gleefully high hardware sales numbers, and this study seems to be implying the same thing. The 360 may have some good game titles going for it but its dependability and customer service are sorely lacking. Still, only 3.8% of respondents said a hardware failure would make them not buy another 360, so until Xbox gamers learn to value their hard-earned money and stop wasting it with Microsoft, the company really has little motivation to alter what has proved to be a crazy successful business model of shoddy manufacturing and guaranteed repeat purchases.

playstation 3 slim announced!

It's been grinding in the rumor mill for some time now but today the official announcement came that a PS3 Slim model will be hitting store shelves this September. For some reason Kmart was the first source ("accidentally") to announce the arrival of the $299 PS3 Slim and is listing it as a presale due ou September 1st. The new Playstation 3 SKU will come with a 120 GB hard drive; existing PS3 products will likely be seeing a companion price drop in the very near future as there will be little reason to buy the 80GB "bulky" version for the same price as this new slimline model. Personally I am happy to keep my backwards-compatible bigger machine but for anyone who hasn't invested in a Playstation 3 yet, this certainly makes it an easier prospect when it comes to finding physical space for it. The one we have is a beast!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

the video game retail price debate

If you pay attention to gaming news you probably read last week when Activision CEO Bobby Kotick made a rather flip remark about wishing he could raise the prices of his company's blockbuster game releases even higher to get more reassurance that a game will make back the money spent on its development. The video game community has understandably reacted pretty negatively to these comments as they come in a time when Activision is already clearly making huge profits. Not to mention that the average American is finding it hard enough to drop $60 on a new game (see used game sales spikes for more proof of this). When Activision's DJ Hero and Tony Hawk: Ride launch they will both cost upwards of $120 as they are released with peripheral controller accessories, and Modern Warfare 2 will set UK players back around $75 USD when it comes out in November. I understand the troubles that game studios have when it comes to making money back - publishers pay for every game copy ever printed, not just the ones that sell - but still, with the rise of digital distribution and the looming juggernaut that is the used games market, now is for sure not the time to be alienating the loyal customer base that buys new products with price gauging.

Analysis: Kotick's 'Raise the Price' Comment and AAA Game Value
Publish Post

johnny cash's guitar hero debut

One of the next big music games due out this year is Guitar Hero 5, which launches in just a few weeks on September 1st, and this latest installment of the Guitar Hero series will feature Johnny Cash an a playable celebrity character! The game will also include Cash's song Ring of Fire as well as Man In Black, which will be an unlockable track to play. There are so many new music games coming out this year that it is tough to keep track of them all.

Guitar Hero 5: Johnny Cash's Video Game Debut

busy busy lately

It's been over a week since I posted anything here and I am setting out to break this bad habit I've fallen into. Things have been crazy busy for me between my two jobs and, well, it's summer and there are more fun places to spend time than in front of a computer writing a blog. Still, I am doing my best to find time to get some gaming in here and there. I have been playing quite a bit of Sims 3 lately and finally took the chance on setting up a Sim with the Evil trait. In fact, he is not only Evil but also Insane and Inappropriate! These traits really do make for some hilarious situations, like the friendly interaction options of "Talk About Conspiracies" (his brother is Neurotic so this is their favorite conversation topic) and "Speak Madness", which has become my go-to social interaction to use. In addition to the Sims I also managed to get a perfect score and a medal on the Crop Stomp level of Rhythm Heaven that has plagued me for a long time. It definitely helps sometimes to take some time off from a game and approach it again later. I've also been doing a fair amount of rocking out in Guitar Hero, which coincidentally has a prominent cameo in Orphan, the (very scary and disturbing) movie I saw last night.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

jake gyllenhaal in prince of persia movie

There are tons of video game movies in development slated to come out over the next few years, and some are pretty successful franchises that could really be cool movie storylines: God of War, Castlevania and BioShock come to mind. One game franchise-turned-movie that has some buzz developing around it recently is Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, which will star Jake Gyllenhaal as the title role. The Prince of Persia series dates back to 1989 and tells the story of a sort of more serious Aladdin-type character in ancient Persia performing acrobatic feats to save the day in a number of very epic-sounding plots. Anyway, the first official promo photo for the new movie is out [at left] and Jake Gyllenhaal looks pretty dashing as Prince Dastan. Sir Ben Kingsley will be in this movie as well! Sounds like a recipe for a potential blockbuster.

wii sports resort

The long-anticipated follow-up to Wii Sports arrived over the weekend and predictably sold well thanks to many advance online orders as well as reservations in-store. Wii Sports Resort includes many new sports including swordplay, table tennis and frisbee! I haven't picked this one up yet as it does require the Wii MotionPlus controller add-on (one is included but of course who wants to play Wii Sports one player?). Eventually we will surely add this one to our collection as it looks like a great new game for social occasions or just kicking back with some beers. IGN gave Wii Sports Resort a 7.7 "Good" which is pretty fabulous for a Wii game these days.

IGN: Wii Sports Resort Review

Thursday, July 23, 2009

video game developers taking over hollywood

With the rising popularity of video game entertainment combined with slumping numbers from Hollywood these days it’s no surprise that more video game publishers are moving into the realm of film development as well. Far too often a movie made from a game franchise turns into crap in the film company’s hands and more game developers want to ensure that their game franchises are given the proper film treatment. Ubisoft, for example, announced at SDCC this week that they will be releasing short films based on Halo and Assassin’s Creed that were made with no Hollywood involvement. This will surely become a more frequent occurrence as the line between games and movies blends further and further. Perhaps this will mean an increase in the quality of games-turned-movies and we won’t have to suffer from movie releases like Alone in the Dark and House of the Dead.

siren: blood curse on psn

We downloaded an awesome game from the Playstation Network this weekend called Siren: Blood Curse and have been really loving it so far. Siren: Blood Curse is a Playstation 3 game based on the PS2 title Siren and its sequel Forbidden Siren 2. For U.S. consumption the game is packaged in 12 episodes that can be bought and downloaded individually or as a whole. The game plays almost like an interactive movie as you control several characters exploring and fighting ghost-like bad guys called “shibito”. The graphics are lifelike and beautiful to look at and the music and ambient noise is creepy and haunting. One interesting gameplay aspect is Sight-Jacking Mode, in which your character can take on the perspective of other characters and also of the shibito, letting you anticipate their actions with more inside knowledge. If you’re a PS3 owner and a fan of survival horror, especially with a Japanese flair, Siren: Blood Curse is definitely a must-have.

xbl restrictions leave new zealand gamer kids in the cold

Microsoft has confirmed their new policy of restricting anyone under 18 in New Zealand from downloading content on Xbox Live, a move that supposedly is in the interest of keeping XBL a “safer place” for its users. Though the ban is related to keeping kids from accessing mature content on the Xbox Live Marketplace, the new restrictions mean that anyone whose Live account indicates that they are younger than 18 can’t even download demos or DLC for G-rated games! Hopefully Microsoft will find a better middle-ground solution that lets NZ kids download material that is appropriate to their age group, or else I think they will just have a load of accounts with falsified ages on their hands in response.

Microsoft Confirms Locking New Zealand Kids Out From Xbox Live

katamari on the iphone!

I’ve been sweating an iPhone for months now and finally decided to suck it up and take the plunge and now am set up with a lovely white 16GB iPhone 3GS. I thought I had collected all the possible gaming consoles one could own but of course the iPhone has a whole community of app games for download that use the innovative tilt control as well as the iPhone’s touch-screen controls. You can even get Mass Effect on the iPhone (it’s called Mass Effect: Galaxy)! I am doing my best not to collect too many silly mobile games but I had to pick up I Love Katamari, a handheld version of my latest favorite franchise involving rolling stuff up into balls/katamaris. The tilt control provides a whole new level of challenge in this game but I think once I get used to it it will provide excellent entertainment on the go. The graphics look great and the sound quality is nice as well, plus it drains the battery far less than I would have imagined. Good stuff!

SDCC starts today

The San Diego Comic-Con International started today and runs through the weekend, showcasing comic books, movies, video games and other entertainment media. The multi-genre fan convention has been taking place for nearly 40 years and is a favorite destination for comic superfans. Still, one of the big themes this year is the rise in popularity and prominence of video games, which stand out in 2009 as a bigger part of SDCC than in the past, when the focus was more on comics and superhero stories. Even Stan Lee of Marvel can’t help but ride the video game wave into the future:
"Videogames are getting bigger and more important every day," said Iron Man's creator Stan Lee, publisher emeritus of Marvel Comics.
"Many are based on movies and/or comic books. In fact, the line of demarcation between movies and comic books is getting slimmer and slimmer. Today, when a comic book -- or a movie -- is being planned, one of the first questions asked is would it make a good video game?"
Iron Man multitasks at annual comic convention